I began working at Traverse City Central in 2001. For my first seven years, I taught science, special ed, and home economics. All strength and conditioning was done before and after school. There were limited facilities and no organized strength and conditioning. Our “weight room” was an old rifle range that was less than 1,500 square feet in size. Our facilities were embarrassing, and we received very little funding from our district. One day, I decided to stop complaining and do something about it.Our facilities were embarrassing & we received very little funding from our district. I decided to stop complaining and do something about it. We created a plan, says @TrojanStrength. Click To Tweet
We created a plan of attack to write reasonable grant requests and purchase the best equipment we could afford in phases. Our first phase was two two-sided Hammer Strength combo racks and four platforms. When our study body and staff saw what we were trying to do, it helped our fundraising initiative achieve our final goal. Once you get small phases completed, it is easier for everyone to visualize what could be.
If you told me 11 years ago that we would be training in our current facility, I wouldn’t have believed you. However, when you relentlessly go after fundraising and grants, it is possible to build the facility you currently can’t imagine but your student-athletes deserve.
Prior to fundraising and writing grants, our facility was run-down, and our student body was reluctant to take part in our strength and conditioning program. Many of our students chose to train in private sector facilities without any supervision or guidance. Our female athletes avoided strength training and often cited the condition of our facility as a major reason why.
Usage has increased exponentially since we moved into our new facility. In 2007, we had one “weights” class of 20, where students did whatever they wanted. In 2019, we offer a year-round unified training program that holds classes from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Friday. In addition, we now offer open training to all students who don’t have the Strength and Conditioning class for 1.5 hours after school.
Build a Path to a Better Facility
In 2008, I switched from teaching science to full-time PE. We had a new AD and a supportive interim principal who provided us with a 5,600-square foot box and challenged me to write grants if I wanted new equipment. They introduced me to the district administrator in charge of grants. I spent a couple of hours with her so I could understand the process. I highly recommend reaching out to administrators in your district to find out if you have someone with this expertise.
In addition, I talked to anybody who would listen and gave tours of our current facility to demonstrate need. These tours turned into $30,000 over a three-year period. I found there were community members that wanted to help when they saw the current state of our facility.I highly recommend reaching out to administrators in your district to find out if you have someone with grant writing expertise, says @TrojanStrength. Click To Tweet
We are located in northern Michigan. We have limited fitness resources for our students to train in and our winters are long and cold. In order for our athletes to train year-round, we need facilities that allow for not only strength training, but also speed and agility. I have visited several high school facilities throughout the country and wondered why our students couldn’t have the same resources. I have friends who work in Southern states and I am amazed at the commitment to excellence that their schools have in facilities and quality coaching.
Fundraising Opportunities You Should Know About
I have to admit that I hate fundraising. My students hate fundraising, too. Yet the funding we have received over the past 18 years has been inadequate to give our students the facilities they deserve. Fundraising has been crucial to our department acquiring grants. My students have taken ownership over the last 11 years and have participated in a variety of fundraisers to help me acquire seed money. This has netted us $2,000-$6,000 each year through a variety of fundraisers.
We have sold cookies, Subway cards, and mugs through various fundraising organizations. They have been successful, but you pay up to 50% of your profit to the organization running the fundraiser. This past year, I had a co-worker approach me about a fundraiser that was 100% profit minus printing costs. He arranged with a local group of restaurants to allow us to sell buy-one-get-one free entree coupon sheets with 10 coupons on them during their slow season of November through April. Our staff sold through social media and our kids sold to family and friends. The fundraiser brought in $6,000.
I believe our students are willing to participate in our fundraisers because 100% of the money goes to purchasing equipment that helps them. Whenever we raise enough money to purchase equipment, our students act like it’s Christmas.
Video 1. Simple chest passes are underrated for upper body power assessment. Testing with the Ballistic Ball is scientifically valid and practical for all levels, not just elite athletes.
We have had to purchase EVERYTHING through fundraising and grants. The $5,000 our district provided only paid for a small portion of our first phase. If we had not raised money through grants and fundraising, we would not have been able to purchase our current equipment. Our initial grants and fundraisers have allowed us to purchase:
- 8 two-sided Hammer Strength HD elite racks
- 8 Hammer Strength platforms
- Rubber- and polyurethane-coated bumper plates for racks and platforms
- 8 Intek Triple Pin Bars for Olympic lifts
- 16 Intek bars for racks
- 10 10-kg bars
- 1 5-kg bar
- 8 trap bars
- 1 10-piece set of Life Fitness Selectorized equipment
The Importance of Seed Money
While talking to multiple sources involved with grants, I kept hearing the same thing: Organizations like you need to have around 40% seed money for us to consider you for a grant.
I used the Life Fitness/ Hammer Strength Room Planner to come up with a vision of what we wanted to create for our students. We organized a fundraiser and our students raised $7,000 toward the equipment. Our AD and principal had all athletic teams contribute $200 and the principal contributed $5,000, increasing our seed money to a total of $15,000.People are more interested in what I propose when they can see what we currently have and then look at a visual model of what we are trying to create, says @TrojanStrength. Click To Tweet
I am always extremely nervous whenever I talk to someone about grants and fundraising because I don’t know how receptive they will be to what I propose. After doing this for several years, I have discovered that the more I talk about it and share my vision of what we want to create, the more people are willing to help. There are community members with resources who are willing to help if it fits with their mission. I have found that people are more interested in what I propose when they can see what we currently have and then look at a visual model of what we are trying to create.
Local Grants Are Indispensable
We have had most of our success with local grants. We would not have the facilities we have today without support from our local organizations. I recommend reaching out to any local businesses and industries in your area. Some examples of local organizations that have given us grants are: Traverse City Track Club, Oleson Foundation, Biederman Foundation, Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa Indians, Lagina Foundation, and Falconer Foundation Student Grant.
I collected every grant I could find and created a folder of potential funding sources. I committed to writing one grant a day for a month during my lunch and prep period, and used successful grants that my Hammer Strength rep gave me as a blueprint to follow. I told my story and shared the vision of what we wanted to create for our students. My grant budgets reflected the 40% seed money recommended by those inside the organization.
After three months of waiting, we received notification of our first grant. We took that first grant and applied for another grant. That $5,000 grant quickly turned into $15,000. I kept repeating this process until we had raised over $70,000 in the first year. Our grants have ranged from $1,500 to $23,000. This, combined with fundraising every year, added up over a 10-year period.
One of our grants was a student grant. I printed off an application for all of my students and told them if we didn’t have something they wanted, to write a grant for it. The organization received 35 grant applications from my students and visited our school to tell the students they would provide $13,000 to help us continue improving our facility.
This has been an ongoing process for the last 11 years. We were committed to buying the highest quality equipment we could afford, so we completed our facility in phases. Now, we are able to purchase extra things to help our students.Improving our facility has been an ongoing process for 11 years. We committed to buying the highest quality equipment we could afford, so we completed our facility in phases. Click To Tweet
One of these extra things is technology. Most of the technology we have purchased is used to track our student-athletes’ progress to see if the training we do is having the impact we want.
We have purchased GymAware for velocity-based training and tracking relative power output. Recently, we purchased the MuscleLab Contact Grid to track vertical jumps and the reactive strength index, but we are just scratching the surface with what it can do. We are learning how to use the grid to teach our athletes to better contact the ground with various plyometric drills. Both pieces of equipment have made me a better coach because they give me concrete feedback on what our lifts and jumps should look like when we train for power.
Video 2. Eccentric overload means the negative work is higher than the concentric work. With harnesses, athletes can safely use their entire body to create momentum and then apply technique to absorb primarily with their legs.
I am always looking for ways to improve performance and reduce injury that fit with what we do. After reading about flywheels, we decided to purchase the kBox for eccentric overload and injury prevention. I was so impressed with the results we were getting with it that I decided to look into the VersaPulley for our rotational athletes. I felt like our rotational athletes needed something beyond just medicine balls. Flywheel training is different than traditional free weights, but does not replace them for us. They are another tool in our toolbox that we use to fill holes in our program.
Video 3. The VersaPulley is one option we use to get rotational power, and many of the movements are a total body pattern. Athletes should use both horizontal and vertical flywheels.
We purchased a Brower Laser Timer for accurate timing of student improvement in sprint performance. I think athletes knowing that what we do is helping them improve is important for buy-in. We track 10-yard, 40-yard, and flying 10s throughout the year with the system.
The winter in northern Michigan can make it difficult for our track and field programs to train. The Traverse City Track Club is a nonprofit that has a grant program to support activities associated with running. Since 2007, it has provided us with money to purchase Woodway Curve treadmills and five commercial Precor treadmills. These allow our athletes to train inside when the weather outside is not appropriate. The Curve treadmills have been an excellent tool for our sprinters with limited indoor space.
Video 4. During cold weather months, treadmills are sometimes necessary as space is at a premium. Investing in a few treadmills can allow athletes to run when snow is on the ground.
Write Thank-You Notes
A friend inside one of the foundations told me they are rarely thanked for the money they donate. I make sure to write a thank-you note to every organization that awarded us a grant, so they know how grateful we are for their gift. I believe this has helped us receive grants from the same organizations on multiple occasions.Be sure to write thank-you notes to every organization that awards you a grant, so they know how grateful you are for their gift, recommends @TrojanStrength. Click To Tweet
Developing relationships with individuals within the philanthropic organizations has also assisted us in working with them to fund projects we are trying to complete. Several grants we have received occurred after conversations we had where I explained to them what we were trying to do. Both times, a member of the organization asked me to fill out the paperwork and we received significant grants.
Don’t Forget a Budget for Maintenance
At the time I started writing grants, our PE budget for six teachers was $500 for the entire department. Our equipment was not a quality brand and had not been maintained. After we received our new equipment, our athletic director instituted a maintenance fund that required $200 from each of our athletic teams. This money goes to keeping all of the equipment functioning and in excellent condition.
Most of our big equipment is now more than 11 years old and people always comment on what great shape it is in. The money goes to repairing and replacing everything from the naugahyde on benches to old bars and weights. We also have preventive maintenance done biannually on our treadmills to prevent costly repairs later.
A Summer Programming Solution
Strength and conditioning coaches have undervalued themselves at all levels. I have worked at multiple universities as an unpaid intern, a slightly paid graduate assistant, and a full-time assistant working 80+ hours a week for less than minimum wage. I more than doubled my pay and received benefits for the first time in my life when I began working at my current school in 2001 (starting pay was $34,000).
In 2001, our school didn’t have any organized strength and conditioning. I was coaching football and filled the need for a strength and conditioning coach by offering to train for free anybody who showed up. At the time, that included three football players and one basketball player. The time commitment slowly grew as we began to get buy-in from multiple programs.
In 2017, our summer program had ballooned to 400-500 student-athletes and the time commitment had grown. I was struggling to pay the bills for my young family and had a decision to make. The hours I was spending in the weight room was making it impossible to get a decent-paying job in the summer. I was contemplating giving up what I loved and going to work for a friend doing manual labor.
While attending a conference in Minneapolis, I had dinner with a group of coaches from the National High School Strength and Conditioning Association. There was a lot of talk about compensation and how coaches were being paid. I was interested to hear that there was a wide range of stipends being paid to coaches from around the country. I was surprised to learn about stipends ranging from assistant to varsity coaching stipends for every season—fall, winter, spring, summer. This was not realistic in my district, but I hoped to get the equivalent for the summer hours I worked.
A good friend encouraged me to start my own business outside of my teaching responsibilities and register as an LLC. After talking with the coaches at the NHSSCA clinic, I found out several of them had already done this. I put it off for several months, but finally researched it online, discovered how easy it was, and then completed my application in less than an hour. I have spoken with several coaches around the country and helped walk them through the process. You shouldn’t hesitate to start the process if you are thinking about starting your own LLC. It is a lot easier than you would expect.A good friend encouraged me to start my own business outside of teaching and register as an LLC. I discovered many coaches had already done this, and it’s not hard to do. Click To Tweet
After setting up the LLC, EIN number, and business bank account, I talked to our athletic director. He was supportive of what I was trying to do and told me they couldn’t pay me what I deserve. After I had the go-ahead to move forward, I reached out to all of our coaches, explaining how I would run our summer program with pay structures based on time and number of days of training.
We created a pay structure for an unlimited number of athletes from any teams interested in training. If an athlete was not part of a team participating in the program, they could sign up for a multi-sport camp running the length of the summer. In addition, we added middle school camps where we emphasize fundamental movement skills, sprinting, and an introduction to basic strength training.
Video 5. Basic speed testing is essential for assessing the transfer of training. Conventional timing systems are great for getting splits and total times of sprints.
Our district has a Learning, Enrichment, and Athletic department (LEAP) that manages most of our extracurricular activities. I run my camps through this, and they pay my LLC. I pay a percentage of my profit back to the LEAP department so I can run my camps through the school. We also set aside additional money to be used as seed money and purchase new equipment. We were successful enough in year one to pay me the equivalent of a coach’s stipend and pay our athletic trainer a stipend to work with our athletes throughout the summer.
In year two, we had to add staff to accommodate the increased demand. We have two certified strength and conditioning coaches, one certified athletic trainer, three sport coaches, and one intern. More than 500 different athletes go through our facility each week. We have added teams and have 98 fifth-eighth graders signed up for our two-day camps. This is a significant increase in workload from my first summer in 2001, when I worked with four athletes.
Don’t Complain, Get Active
Nobody likes a complainer. Get active, treat grant writing like a job, and find people with the skill sets you lack to help you. I don’t believe I am good at writing grants, but I am persistent. Make the organizations tell you no.
I spent my first eight years complaining before I wrote my first grant, mostly because I doubted it would make a difference. Thousands of students have been impacted because of our team of coaches, teachers, and grant writers. None of this would have happened without the generosity of our community.
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